Family of Samsung chairman to pay more than $10.8bn in inheritance tax

Conglomerate offers no details on how Lee Kun-hee’s shares will be distributed or whether they will be sold

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 7: Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-Hee (C), the Greece ambassador to South Korea Constantin Drakakis (L) and Seoul Vice Mayor Won Se-Hun (R) look on during day five of the Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay at Seoul City Hall on June 7, 2004 in Seoul, South Korea. The Olympic flame travels through 34 cities in 27 countries en route to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The family of late Samsung Electronics chairman Lee Kun-hee said on Wednesday they will pay more than 12 trillion won ($10.8 billion) in inheritance taxes for his estate and donate his vast private art collection to state curators.

Mr Lee, who is credited with transforming Samsung into the world’s largest smartphone and memory chip maker, died on October 25 with an estate valued at around 26tn won.

The Lee family’s handling of the hefty inheritance tax bill – one of the largest-ever globally – has been closely watched as it could have resulted in the dilution of the family’s controlling stake in Samsung.

There was also significant public interest amid calls for Mr Lee’s $1.76bn art collection to stay in South Korea, and reports the family planned to make a large donation to make reparations for Mr Lee’s conviction on tax evasion and embezzlement charges more than a decade ago.

The family said they planned to pay the tax bill over a period of five years in six instalments, starting this month.

“It is our civic duty and responsibility to pay all taxes,” it said in a statement released by Samsung.

Shares in Samsung C&T shares dropped as much as 5.5 per cent, however, as the statement provided no detail on how Mr Lee’s shares would be distributed, if any shares would be sold, nor specifics on how the family planned to fund the payments.

“There was general investor disappointment as no details about how the stakes will be divided were revealed,” said Lee Sang-hun, an analyst at HI Investment & Securities.

Investors will instead need to wait for regulatory filings to discover changes in shareholdings by Mr Lee’s son and Samsung Electronics vice chairman Jay Y. Lee or other family members.

It is our civic duty and responsibility to pay all taxes

The family had been discussing using shares in affiliated companies as collateral for personal loans to pay part of the tax bill to avoid the sale of their Samsung holdings, Reuters reported last week, citing sources.

Analysts have said the family is likely to use loans and dividends from both their own and Mr Lee’s shares to pay the tax.

Mr Lee’s shareholdings included a 4.18 per cent stake in Samsung Electronics, 0.08 per cent of Samsung Electronics preferred shares, 20.76 per cent of Samsung Life Insurance, 2.88 per cent of Samsung C&T, and 0.01 per cent stake in Samsung SDS.

Samsung C&T is the de facto holding company of Samsung conglomerate, of which Mr Jay is the largest shareholder with a 17.33 per cent stake.

The heir is currently halfway through a 30-month jail sentence for bribery and other offences. The presidential Blue House on Tuesday dismissed calls from some business lobby groups to grant him a pardon.

A woman looks at the Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone during a domestic launch event at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on January 22, 2021. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

As anticipated, the family announced it will donate 1tn won to improve public healthcare, including 500 billion won to build South Korea’s first specialist hospital for infectious diseases.

Mr Lee’s extensive personal art collection, including masterpieces by Picasso, Monet and Warhol, will be donated to organisations, including the National Museum of Korea and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

The family said the philanthropic donations from Mr Lee’s estate would “uphold his legacy and contribute to the creation of a better society”.

Former culture ministers and art groups had earlier called for a new law to allow the family to donate the art in lieu of some of the tax bill.